Mary Shelton, known as “Madge” or “Pretty Madge,” was the daughter of a simple knight, Sir John Shelton and Anne Boleyn (sister of Thomas Boleyn). Lady Anne Shelton (Boleyn) was the aunt of Queen Anne Boleyn, which made Madge and Queen Anne first cousins.
Not much is know about Pretty Madge. We do know that she was a brief Mistress of King Henry VIII, while he was married to Anne Boleyn, and that she was a poet. She and several other courtiers put together a volume of poetry that they all contributed to, Madge writing many of the poems in the collection. She also helped scribe Medieval poems into the volume. Some other poets who contributed were, Sir Thomas Wyatt (main contributor), Sir Edmund Knyvet, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (later husband to Mary Queen of Scots).
Mary became the kings mistress while she was serving Anne Boleyn as her lady in waiting. Some writers have taken liberties to suggest that Anne put forth her cousin to be the king’s mistress while she was with child, so that at least she could choose and control whom the king took to his bed. Anne had many enemies who wanted to see her replaced almost all noblemen threw their young an beautiful daughters in the king’s way, hoping that she would be noticed and bring royal favor to her family. However, it is only a suggestion that Anne did this. What we do know is that Anne was very intolerant of the king’s infidelities and threw public fits over them, something that was considered very common-like (and not queenly) behavior. One should not assume that she felt any differently over the king having an affair with her cousin. It isn’t even know if Mary and Anne liked each other. Not all Boleyn’s were on good terms with Thomas Boleyn and his branch of the family.
Mary was young, very beautiful, and very intelligent, all things that most likely would have made Anne see Mary as a rival and a threat. She was not the air headed ditz that Hollywood sometimes portrays her as. She was very cultured, well read, a writer, somewhat scholarly, and sophisticated. All things that attracted Henry VIII to women (even Anne to initially). Oddly though, Mary did not seem to seek land a titles for her family. She seemed to be content just being a brief lover of the king. The affair only lasted maybe six months.
Mary was first betrothed to Sir Henry Norris, but the engagement was broken when her families financial prospects dwindled. After that, she was engaged to the poet Thomas Clere. He died soon after and left her is property. Finally in 1546, Mary married her cousin, Sir Anthony Heveningham. They had at least two children. Mary married one more time to a commoner, Henry Appleyard. It is said that at some point she was also romantically involved with Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard Earl of Surrey. It appears Madge was a bit of a free spirit. She died around 1571.
The known children of Mary Shelton and Anthony Heveningham:
Arthur Heveningham (1547-1630)
Dorothy Heveningham (1559-1635)